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Liking Small In A Big World

It has been the bane of my life to have lived through a world in which everything small became big. The grocery stores, the farms, the department stores, medical practices, pharmacies…everything, it seems, that I know, has become big.

When I was a kid, there used to be some small grocery stores on the southside of Jamestown. I could ride my bike from the farm down to the store on Brown Street in less than ten minutes. Bob Bergman also had his Red & White grocery on the corner of Barker and Broadhead Streets. My Mom would send my sister there on her bike. Bob would have the groceries ready, put them in the basket on her bicycle, and she would pedal them home. You could go into these places for bread and milk or just for a piece of 1 cent candy. I loved it.

Now going to a grocery store usually means going to a big one in Lakewood where I can get lost in the aisles, and where I always try to go early so that I don’t get caught up in a big rush later in the day. Maybe that’s why I like Hogan’s Hut so much and the other smaller stores that sell groceries in the area. I know that the owners are local and not in a far-off place like Bentonville, Arkansas.

What drives the world toward “bigness,” of course, is price. To keep drug, food and merchandize prices down — the bigger you are, the more you can buy or produce and, in the process, produce or sell it at a lower price. The consumer likes lower prices. But to get that, we have given up the “smallness” that has served us so well.

There are some businesses that seemed to have survived the march toward “bigness.” Hair salons seem to be one. I like going to get a hair-cut from a person I know and who owns her own business. Restaurants also can be privately owned and not a chain operation. Sometimes you can also find a hardware store or a lawn and garden shop with local ownership. But, by and large, big box stores and big businesses dominate our lives.

I suppose it could be worse. A man by the name of Jack Ma who started Alibaba, a huge company in China modeled like Amazon, got “too big for his britches” and seems to have disappeared. In a dictatorship like China, there is always someone bigger than you–namely, the head of the country and the communist party. Mr. Xi apparently didn’t like the fact that Mr. Ma was getting too big and too rich.

At least, in this country, we haven’t started jailing men like Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos who have gotten big and rich but have still retained the right to speak their mind.

Yet, let’s not kid ourselves. Bigness has, in a way, hurt us culturally. It also has made it harder for young people to get into business. Unless you have a very deep pocket or know someone who does–it is not easy to become an entrepreneur in today’s world.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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